Recent news reports out of the City of Paphos, Cyprus describe a clash between the Mayor of Paphos on the one hand and the Cyprus antiquities department and its local Museum in Paphos on the other, with official pronouncements, competing press conferences and plenty of mudslinging. The Mayor indirectly accuses staff at the Museum and organized crime (directly) of being involved in trafficking antiquities and the Museum of not completing a long term project to catalog and digitize their collection of some 20,000 0bjects. In a surprising twist, the Museum staff and antiquities department head have denied there is any illicit trade in antiquities in the area, despite police evidence to the contrary. Something is fishy on the coast of Cyprus.
This row is in many respects a manifestation of long term problems in antiquities-rich nations involving how to store, record and care for countless archaeological and casual finds. Many Mediterranean nations have found themselves increasingly pressed to adequately store and preserve the wealth of archaeological materials excavated or accidentally unearthed in their territories. The situation has been described as “a crisis in curation” and a problem that “continues to be widespread and serious.” At the same time, local governments are eager to benefit financially from tourist revenue generated through the display of antiquities in Museums or in situ. An excellent paper on this issue is: Kersel, Morag M. “Storage Wars: Solving the Archaeological Curation Crisis?” Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies 3.1 (2015): 42-54.
Here are two articles on this ongoing clash, one from The Committee for Cultural Policy website: https://committeeforculturalpolicy.org/cyprus-mayor-accuses-museum-staff-of-stealing-antiquities/
The other from the “incyprus” news site: http://in-cyprus.com/fedonos-organised-crime-behind-antiquities-looting/
All links open in a new tab or window.
As dealers in the antiquities trade go, we’ve never been very conventional here at Clio. In keeping with that reputation, we’re making a dramatic move away from our long established website and offering customers access to our stock of antiquities, ancient coins, books and more through a range of e-commerce platforms.
E-commerce changed dramatically the last few years. We noted the move away from conventional transactions over a relatively static website and towards selling platforms like eBay, Etsy and Shopify. Many merchants in all sorts of industries noticed it, too. Our own sales reports made it clear that to keep up with the changing nature of online sales we needed to offer antiquities and ancient coins through a range of sites.
Now you and other customers worldwide may find Clio Ancient Art at the following locations –
Find us on eBay: http://www.ebay.com/usr/clioantiquities
Find us on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ClioAncientArt
Find us on WordPress: https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/
Find us on Shopify / Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClioAntiquities/
Each of these platforms serves a slightly different type of clientele but collectively they reach countless millions of customers, including most of our established clients. Released of the burden of a time consuming and costly website with cookie cutter service, we can focus on targeted and expanding sales through a variety of platforms offering increasingly sophisticated analytics. This can only mean better greater flexibility for our clients
Our old website will quietly vanish over the next few days. Over the next couple of months we’ll be upgrading and monetizing our long established blog on WordPress. Our shops on eBay, Etsy and Facebook / Shopify will be regularly offering specials and a rotating mix of quality antiquities, ancient coins and print resources. We hope you’ll take the time to visit them all and find the one you like best.
Thank you again for your time and your support over the past 7 years. We look forward to hearing from you again soon.
With best wishes,
Chris M. Maupin
Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities
PO Box 7714
Wilmington, NC 28406
Find us on eBay: http://www.ebay.com/usr/clioantiquities
Find us on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ClioAncientArt
Find us on WordPress: https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/
Find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClioAntiquities/
Here is a review in “The Art Newspaper” of the remarkable show now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, exploring Hellenistic Art – http://theartnewspaper.com/shows/hellenistic-greece-emerges-from-the-shadows-of-classicism/
A ruling by Israel’s high court, supported by the Israel Antiquities Authority, now requires all dealers to document every object in their inventory online with a description, including provenance, and a photograph. While this may at first sound sensible, it is important to point out that much of the trade in Israel is in very low value objects, such as common ancient coins, oil lamps and pottery. Some argue that this will simply drive the trade underground, rather than inhibiting unauthorized sales. Here is the link to an article in The Art Newspaper (opens in a new window or tab)- http://theartnewspaper.com/news/israeli-high-court-says-antiquities-dealers-must-document-all-artefacts-online/
2015 was a year that saw unprecedented destruction of antiquities, ancient monuments and cultural heritage of all sorts, particularly in the conflict zones of the Middle East. And it wasn’t just IS that was responsible – even the Syrian government got in on the act by, among other actions, bombing the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bosra during the final days of December (Ensor). But while the well heeled cultural heritage industry held countless conferences, attended posh receptions and issued gratuitous proclamations, damning the trade in antiquities, legal or illegal, and demonizing museums, collectors, dealers and governments alike, a few proposals floated in the final months of the year offered rational, practical options for saving antiquities and ancient monuments.
The first of these came on October 1, with an announcement held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), a one hundred year old professional association representing 242 members in the United States, Canada and Mexico. (Neuendort). AAMD issued “Protocols for Safe Havens for Works of Cultural Significance from Countries in Crisis.” Based on the principle that stewardship is the hallmark of the museum community, the Protocols would provide a framework for museums to give safe haven for works at risk due violent conflict, terrorism, or natural disasters. Owners/depositors could request safe haven at an AAMD member museum where the works would be held until conditions allowed their safe return. Works deposited would be treated as loans. To ensure transparency, AAMD member museums accepting such works would register them in a new publicly available online registry where information on the objects would be publicly available. The Protocols would even cover considerations such as transport and storage, scholarly access, legal protections, exhibition, conservation, and safe return of works to the appropriate individuals or entities as soon as feasible.
Not surprisingly, some of the leading players in the self-styled cultural heritage community, including the American School for Oriental Research and the Archaeological Institute of America, immediately issued a statement obliquely attacking the AAMD Protocols while offering no meaningful proposals of their own. They claimed that because depositors of objects in AAMD’s institutions might include private owners, rather than just national museums, there might be a chance of looted objects also being deposited, thereby indirectly supporting the illicit trafficking of antiquities (Sharpe). Presumably, they would prefer these objects meet the same fate as those in Afghanistan, where objections – based on the UN’s 1970 cultural property conventions – to the safekeeping out of country of ancient objects, led to their destruction by the Taliban.
In November came word from Paris of a French offer of “asylum” for artifacts under threat. French President Hollande had asked the President of the Louvre to develop a national plan for the protection of cultural heritage. The resulting 50-point proposal included using French museums as a temporary safe haven for antiquities, much like the AAMD plan, as well as a new European database of stolen art and artifacts and funding to preserve existing archaeological sites and monuments, train archaeologists and conservators abroad and reconstruct damaged or destroyed sites (Jones). Again, the heritage industry either ignored the French “asylum” proposal or offered criticism similar to that offered on the AAMD Protocols.
While it seems unlikely U.S. cultural heritage policy will be significantly influenced by either of the initiatives outlined above, there is at least now a glimmer of hope for antiquities to be spared destruction at the hands of extremist groups, indifferent governments and the random destruction so prevalent in all civil conflicts. With museums, acting in unison under the umbrella of organizations such as the AAMD, as well as some foreign governments, such as the bold French initiative, taking the lead, perhaps the tide of thinking is turning away from ineffectual, elitist, self-serving entities such as the so-called Antiquities Coalition, SAFE, and the AIA. Let us all hope that 2016 proves a safer and more stable year for antiquities, monuments and heritage in general.
- Association of Art Museum Directors. “AAMD Issues Protocols to Protect Works of Cultural Significance in Danger of Damage or Destruction.” AAMD website, 1 Oct. 2015. Web.
- Ensor, Josie. “Syrian regime ‘bombs Unesco world heritage site.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited, 24 Dec. 2015. Web.
- Jones, Jonathan. “Asylum for artefacts: Paris’ plan to protect cultural treasures from terrorists.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 20 Nov. 2015. Web.
- Neuendorf, Henri. “Museums Offer Safe Haven for Threatened Art and Antiquities.” Artnet News. Artnet Worldwide Corporation, 2 Oct. 2015. Web.
- Sharpe, Emily. “We’ll store your artifacts, US tells Syrian museums.” The Art Newspaper. The Art Newspaper, 8 Nov. 2015. Web.
Making Matters Worse? The Debate Over
“Repatriating” Antiquities to Failed States in the Middle East
In November of 2013, at a private ceremony at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, DC, a group of four stone cylinder seals, artifacts used in ancient Mesopotamia to mark ownership of property, were handed over to the Iraqi Ambassador (FBI). Both before and since, United States officials and those of other nations have returned looted artifacts to Iraqi government representatives, often with much fanfare. Although the objects returned by U.S. officials in 2013 would have fetched only a few hundred dollars on the open market, that and other ceremonies were touted in official circles and the press as substantive progress in the effort to stem the flow of looted artifacts from the region. Little could those involved have known that just one year later much of Iraq would fall under the control of a self-styled Islamic Caliphate, bent on destroying all physical traces of the region’s pre-Islamic heritage. The fate of the many objects returned to the Iraqi government over the past decade is now uncertain, and serious questions are being raised as to the wisdom of returning more.
As the “Arab Spring” movement for democratic change spread through the Middle East, sectarian violence on a scale that could not have been predicted engulfed the region, particularly Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. Many of the aforementioned states already had poor track records of heritage management, and as some simply disintegrated into warring factions (Libya, Syria and Yemen) the stage was set for ISIL (Islamic State in Syria and the Levant, referred to hereafter as Islamic State), to step into the resulting power vacuum. The result was wholesale destruction of ancient artifacts and archaeological sites and the looting and destruction of museums (Cullinane, Alkhshali and Tawfeeq). With Islamic State on the rampage, and other religiously motivated groups swearing allegiance to them in Libya, Tunisia, Nigeria, Yemen and Afghanistan, the threat to ancient heritage is greater than ever, and the debate over whether or not to return antiquities, looted or legally exported, to the modern nation states where they were discovered is fiercer than ever.
To make sense of this issue, it is necessary to return briefly to an era in which the trade in antiquities from the Middle East was unregulated. This period may be roughly defined as beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and ending with the United Nations 1970 “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” (Convention). This span of nearly 200 years coincides with the age of European colonialism and, for a few decades following the First World War, European occupation of much of the Middle East. With the rise of nationalism and independence for the new nations in the region, restrictions were imposed on the export of artifacts. Although many nations did not sign it right away, and some have still not done so, the 1970 United Nations convention became the standard by which the provenance, or documented ownership history, of an object might be judged. Still, the national export laws of the various states in the region often were out of sync with the 1970 Convention. Egypt and Jordan, for example, did not halt the legal trade in ancient objects until the early 1980s.
Key to understanding the demands by modern nations for the return of artifacts thought to originate within their modern borders, is the scale of the trade in ancient objects. Throughout the roughly two hundred years outlined above, antiquities of every sort were quite legally removed from the lands now defined as modern nations in the Middle East. This was done systematically on behalf of museums, universities and private collectors. Even in relatively recent times, one high profile New York antiquities dealer, who started out selling Egyptian antiquities in the gift shop of the Brooklyn Museum for only a few dollars each, recalled visiting Egypt annually in the 1960s and ‘70s on buying trips, sometimes leaving the country with thousands of objects, all entirely legal under Egyptian law at the time (Dorfman). The net result was a huge pool of legal antiquities on the market from Egypt, North African nations such as Tunisia and Libya and Middle Eastern nations such as Israel / Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran. Many of these same countless thousands of objects continue to circulate on the market today.
In the transitional years of the 1970s and ‘80s, when national and international laws governing antiquities exports were still new, many North American and European museums continued collecting antiquities in a fashion unchanged from the unregulated years of the past, resulting sometimes in the purchase of objects whose provenance was questionable. Over the past thirty years, western museums have been under growing pressure from some foreign governments to return objects, often using the threat of legal action or actual litigation, in some cases supported by documentation indicating the items had been removed illegally. A good case in point, one that generated considerable media attention, was The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1972 acquisition of the Euphronios Krater, a Fifth Century BC Greek vase, looted just months earlier from an Etruscan tomb in Italy. The dealer who sold the piece to the Metropolitan Museum had provided specious documentation on its origins. The Museum eventually conceded that the piece was stolen and returned it to Italy in 2008. Similar controversies have embroiled other North American museums, especially the Getty Museum in Malibu and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (McGuigan). But in all these cases, claims made were by European nations, such as Italy and Greece, and their claims could be substantiated. No such claims have been settled with western museums by nations in the Middle East.
Far more troubling for museums and private collectors is the “national identity” claim put forward by some nations. These rest primarily on the notion that a work of art produced thousands of years ago by a culture in which it would be impossible for people in the corresponding modern nation to survive, much less function, are the property of that modern state simply by accident of geography (Cuno, Artifacts). Perhaps the most famous example of this type of claim is the Greek government’s campaign to acquire the Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon in Athens by Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1812 under a permit granted him by the Ottoman Sultan (Greece was then a province of the Ottoman Empire and did not attain independence until 1832) and housed since 1816 in the British Museum. The Greek claim is primarily based on national identity, with arguments framed in moral terms. In the specific case of the Elgin Marbles, the Greek claim does have some merit, in that reuniting the fragments currently in London with those in Athens’ new custom built, climate controlled Acropolis Museum would make for a far more satisfactory arrangement and might lead to long term loans of antiquities from Greece to the British Museum (Maupin).
Many nationalistic claims of this type can be easily dismissed simply by the complex nature of the objects themselves, such as a mosaic glass dish made in Egypt when it was a province of the Roman Empire, shipped to Rome itself in antiquity, and finding its way to a Roman town in England, by which time it had already become an antique. Or a shipwreck containing wine jars made in Greece in the Roman period and lost off the coast of Croatia. The question raised is who might claim ownership of these objects? In these two examples, a total of four modern nations could potentially lay claim, opening a Pandora’s box of legal challenges and counter-claims. But the larger issue is one of precedent. Museum officials worry that if every foreign claim on the basis of emotionally-driven national identity, political expediency, artistic continuity or one interpretation of morality were agreed to, many museums in North and South America, Europe and even parts of Asia would be virtually emptied of artifacts.
Some governments in the antiquities-rich Middle East have sought universal moratoriums on importation of specific types of antiquities into the United States, and the U.S. State Department has imposed bans on the importation of certain types of cultural items from Egypt, Iraq and Syria. These have been actively supported by a very well-heeled lobby composed of the Archaeological Association of America and a host of richly financed non-profit groups variously describing themselves as operating in the sphere of “heritage protection” or “cultural property” and constituting a flourishing new industry. In the face of these mounting pressures, a growing number of museum professionals, art historians, academics and commentators have, over the last few years, begun to call for a reexamination of museum practices and official policies advocating the return of antiquities to source countries. Their proposals for a changed approach to antiquities repatriation are based on wide ranging philosophical and practical arguments.
Perhaps the most prominent voice in advocating a reconsideration of antiquities repatriation is James Cuno, Former Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, now with the J. Paul Getty Trust, and author of several controversial but highly successful books examining such fundamental questions as “Who owns antiquity/” and ‘Does it serve anyone’s interest to limit access to antiquities?” (Cuno, Who Owns). He, and a number of other prominent academic critics of antiquities repatriation policies, argue that the art and artifacts of the ancient past are a global heritage that belongs to all mankind, and most modern antiquities rich nations have little or no real claim to the ancient heritage that remains in their borders by accident of geography (Appiah). Further, they argue, emotionally driven claims by foreign governments to objects of the distant past are most often about modern politics, not art or archaeology. Cuno cites as an example both Turkey and Greece, whose early governments used new laws banning the export of antiquities, and making all antiquities found on their soil property of the state, as a means of creating a clear national identity where one did not previously exist (Cuno, Who Owns). And more modern governments, including Mussolini’s regime in Italy and successive regimes in Egypt, have used antiquities and ancient monuments as a tool for stirring up nationalist sentiment and cohesion during times of crisis.
Scholars arguing against repatriation of antiquities share the view that “encyclopedic” museums, housing the widest possible range of man-made objects from around the globe and across time, are the best possible venue in which to see antiquities. They argue that the more objects that are removed from museum collections due to litigation by foreign governments, the less comprehensive these museum collections will become, and the cultural experience for the museum going public will also be reduced in quality (Bennett). Further, they make the case that by concentrating antiquities, or any form of art or artifacts, from a particular culture only in the museums of the modern nation state where those objects were found, they are placed at greater risk in times of political unrest. Better to spread the risk, they argue, by housing antiquities in many encyclopedic museum collections worldwide, thus reducing the chances they may be destroyed or looted in a single unstable nation (Mashberg and Bowley).
Both the governments of antiquities rich nations in the Middle East and the archaeological and “cultural heritage” lobby have responded in a predictably negative way to such proposals. Archaeologists, in particular, claim that antiquities that have no provenance or whose archaeological contexts have been lost are dead objects that cannot provide any meaningful information. The response from critics such as Cuno is that even removed from their archaeological context, ancient objects have much to tell. Former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Philippe de Montebello, in reference to the Euphronios Krater, stated: “Although having not been properly excavated, it is far from meaningless…. All great works of art have, in addition to their historical and other learned contexts, an aesthetic context as well” (qtd. in Eakin).
In light of the terrible damage recently done by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, the still fresh memory of other crimes against archaeological heritage in the broader Near and Middle East in recent years (dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, looting of the Baghdad and Kabul Museums, burning of ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu, bombing of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo and looting of regional museums in Egypt), and the near certainty that further damage will be deliberately done to the region’s ancient art and monuments by extremists or simply as a result of being caught in the crossfire, a growing number of commentators are asking if James Cuno’s reasoning should not be taken a step further. They point out that when antiquities were in danger of being destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, ironically it was the 1970 UNESCO Convention that prohibited concerned outsiders from removing the objects from the country for safekeeping, with the result that they were destroyed. Now they wonder if the UNESCO convention should be amended, imposing substantial fines or other penalties on nations that fail to protect their ancient heritage. Others are even advocating for a return to the old system of “partage,” under which foreign museums or universities excavating in the Middle East would evenly divide archaeological finds with the host government, thus insuring that a share of the objects found would be protected outside the country in the event of political instability (Marlowe).
Moralistic pronouncements from the archaeological community, countless conferences full of expensive luncheons and carefully worded resolutions put on by the heritage industry, high profile attempts by dysfunctional governments in the region to reclaim antiquities already looted or missing, and bans on the importation of objects from some countries, have all done absolutely nothing to reduce looting of archaeological sites or stop the ongoing destruction of the ancient past by extremists. With new reports coming out of the Middle East almost weekly of crimes against the shared ancient heritage of all humanity, the urgency that concerned governments, academia, the museum and collecting community, heritage organizations and others take some form of new and meaningful action, including adoption of some of the proposals outlined above, cannot be overstated. Based on the lack of meaningful action to date, it seems doubtful that such common sense will prevail.
NOTE: As this article is being posted, news reports indicate Islamic State is closing in on the ancient Syrian site of Palmyra.
* Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “There is No National Home for Art.” The New York Times. New
York Times Company, 22 Jan. 2015. Web.
* Bennett, Drake. “Finders, keepers.” The Boston Globe. Boston.com, 10 Feb. 2008. Web.
* Cullinane, Susannah, Alkhshali, Hamdi and Tawfeeq, Mohammed. “Tracking a trail of historical
obliteration: ISIS trumpets destruction of Nimrud.” CNN. Cable News Network. Turner
Broadcasting System, Inc. 13 Apr. 2015, Web.
* Cuno, James. “Artifacts as Instruments of Nationalism.” The New York Times. New York Times
Company, 21 Jan. 2015. Web.
* Cuno, James. Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage.
Princeton University Press, 2008. Print.
* Dorfman, John. “The Lure of Egypt.” Art and Antiques Jan. 2010. Art & Antiques Worldwide
Media, LLC. Web. Accessed 21 Apr. 2015.
* Eakin, Hugh. “Who Should Own the World’s Antiquities?” The New York Review of Books 56.8
* “FBI Returns Cultural Antiquities to Iraq.” fbi.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S.
Department of Justice, 6 Nov. 2013. Web.
* “From The Elgin Marbles To King Tut’s Tomb: Who Owns Ancient Artifacts?” Here & Now.
Narr. Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson. Natl. Public Radio. WBUR, Boston, 15 Dec.
* Marlow, Ann. “Should Iraq’s Archaeological Treasures Stay in the West?” The Daily Beast. The
Daily Beast Company LLC, 11 Apr. 2015. Web.
* Maupin, Chris. “A Tale of Two Museums: Visiting the New Acropolis Museum and the
Archaeological Museum of Rhodes.” Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities, Jan. 2010. Web.
Accessed 21 Apr. 2015
* Mashberg, Tom and Bowley, Graham. “Islamic State Destruction Renews Debate Over
Repatriation of Antiquities.” The New York Times. New York Times Company, 30 Mar.
* McGuigan, Cathleen. ”Whose Art Is It?” Newsweek. Newsweek, Incorporated, 149.10 (2007).Web.
* United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Convention on the Means of
Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of
Cultural Property 1970. Paris, 14 Nov. 1970. Web. Accessed 21 Apr. 2015.
The recent decision by The British Museum to send a single sculpture from the famed Parthenon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles) on loan briefly to the Hermitage in Russia, causing outrage in Greece, has once again drawn attention to issues of cultural heritage relating to antiquities. Whatever the merits of the arguments put forward by those demanding the return of the marbles to Greece and those arguing for their continued care in The British Museum – and both sides have many valid points – there can be no doubt that the Museum has been a vital source of knowledge, stewardship and inspiration for those with an interest in classical antiquity, in a way that perhaps no other institution in the world has. Visitors to London may drop in at the Museum free of charge, as millions do annually (6,701,000 in 2013) and this writer has on more than one occasion, to marvel at the most exquisite works of antiquity from all over the globe, thoughtfully presented in a secure and pleasant environment.
The current tempest over the brief loan to the Hermitage seems a good opportunity for a broader review of the British Museum’s ancient Greek holdings. Every medium and material is presented in their displays, including sculpture in stone and bronze, ceramics and terracotta, glass and organic materials. The collections reflect the broad sweep over time and geography of Greek influence in the broader Mediterranean world. In this brief photo essay, I have entirely left out the Parthenon marbles and have selected 15 images that are personal favorites and I hope capture a sense of the complexity of ancient Greek art. I have focused only on Greek art from the Archaic through Hellenistic periods and have incorporated works not only from Athens and other important centers in Greece itself but also in regional styles from Greek communities in Asia Minor, North Africa and southern Italy.
All images are original and should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.
This is a truly amazing piece of research with broad implications. The international team involved plans next to determine if these trade routes for valued materials continued into the later Bronze Age and beyond. Here is the article in the online journal ScienceNordic.com, including a link to the original research in Danish (opens in a new window or tab): http://sciencenordic.com/danish-bronze-age-glass-beads-traced-egypt
The deeply troubling damage caused to antiquities and ancient monuments in the Near and Middle East, particularly Egypt, Syria and Iraq, as a result of war, insurgency, neglect, looting and deliberate destruction at the hands of religious fanatics is a subject I have addressed in this Blog before. It is likely to remain very much alive for the foreseeable future, causing me to reflect upon one institution, in particular, that has safeguarded a vast collection of antiquities from the region for two centuries. This institution is, of course, The British Museum in London.
A great many public and university museums in North America, the UK, Europe and beyond do house collections of Near Eastern and related antiquities, often collected long ago when there were no national laws or international regulations governing their acquisition from source countries. Acquiring antiquities, sometimes using methods that would be considered shocking today, was a normal and perfectly legal practice for large museums, private collectors, dealers and even ordinary tourists on the Grand Tour. In many cases, the modern nation states from whose territories these items were removed are entirely artificial creations on a map, holdovers from colonial occupations by the Ottoman Empire and later by European powers, with little sense of a cohesive national identity; e.g., Iraq and Syria. Many antiquities removed from their place of origin might well have been destroyed had they not been collected in this way. Even in Greece, with a much clearer sense of national identity and respect for its past, it was common well into the early 20th Century for antiquities and ancient monuments to be broken up for building material or road fill, burnt to make lime mortar or defaced because they were considered anathema to local religious beliefs. The British Museum, an island of stability, has safely housed some of the most iconic pieces of ancient Near Eastern art; objects that are now recognized as groundbreaking in the history of human artistic expression.
In this brief entry I would like to share just a very few of these objects, excluding the British Museum’s marvelous collection of Assyrian art, as I have addressed this in another recent article: https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/assyrian-art-and-the-repatriation-of-antiquities/
To learn more about The British Museum’s collections of Near and Middle Eastern antiquities, visit their website, where visitors can explore their collections by place, by culture, by date, by name or by material: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore.aspx